If you’re not familiar with The Nail, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
In The Nail the authors state exactly what they wish to teach the reader: “Hasten slowly,” festina lente. It’s an ancient oxymoronic proverb (Wikipedia offers a quick primer) and apparently one of Augustus’ favorite sayings, along with “Better a safe commander than a bold [one].” We find the words of Augustus’ strategic military wisdom in God’s Word as Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”
I was raised with festina lente in my ears, however, in a way that relates better with Grimm’s tale and the practical lesson for the common person, than Augustus’ quips about commanding an army. Pop used to tell me, while working in the garage or around the house, that if you take care of your tools, your tools will take care of you.
As a child, I was always in a hurry to get done with chores and didn’t realize the value of wiping off the wrench after working on the car. After years of working in the oilfield I came to value my instruction on the matter and can testify to the frustration of having to use gummed up or corroded tools. I’m proud to say I learned the lesson (and, as far as shop etiquette goes, I now serve my father according to Proverbs 27:11).
The merchant, like some of my co-workers, however, needed more schooling. He didn’t take care of his tools, in this case his horse and, well, as my father said, the tool didn’t take care of him. His haste proved to slow him down. Perhaps you see the modern version of this story in the consideration you give the tires on your car. Routine inspection and maintenance keeps you on the road and gets you where you need to be without a problem. Neglect your tires and eventually you’ll have to deal with a flat, and usually when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. Just talk to an employee at your local auto parts store and you’ll hear the sound wisdom that routine maintenance is the best way to save money and avoid inconvenience, which brings us to the ultimate way the words of this tale find their source in the Word of God. This short story offers instruction on how to live, advice, wisdom, guidance. It says, “Hasten slowly.”
Consider James 1:19, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” How many people are too rushed to listen to that which would greatly benefit them? The stable-boy comes to us and says, “A nail is wanting” and we with our hasty, I-can’t-be-bothered-right-now-attitudes, reply, “Let it be wanting… I am in a hurry.” Do we hasten slowly? “Your tires are bald” the mechanic says, “you really should get new ones.” But after considering the financial pinch a person may well choose to roll the dice saying, “I can get a couple more miles out of them.” Are you quick to listen and slow to speak, to act? Or is it the other away around. Are you taking care of your tools so that they’ll take care of you, wiping off your wrench, making sure it’s always ready for use?
The Nail teaches us the same lesson as God’s Word. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). It tells us not to be foolish, like our trunk-toting merchant. The stable-boy is like “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). He tells us (the merchant) the truth of our predicament and He’s willing to deal with it on our behalf.
By the grace of God someone says, “Sir, Christ is missing from your life. Shall I take you to the cross – to church?”
And unless we heed his wisdom we say, “Let me be. I can hold out for a while longer. My life’s too busy right now. I’m doing pretty good in life (having lined our money-bags with gold and silver), just let me be on my way.”
This is the response of a person who’s not hastening slowly, who ignores the news that the nail is missing, who doesn’t see that the horse is limping — that the tires are bald — the birth pains of things to come (Matthew 24:8), this is the perspective of a fool. What sort of people ought we be, according to the Brothers Grimm and according Scripture? People who live in “holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11-12), knowing the wisdom of Scripture before our horse loses a nail, so to speak. We’re to be Christians, “not carried away with the error of lawless people [to] lose our stability. But [who] grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18). We are to recognize that disaster can be avoided, if only we would hasten slowly, listen, and believe the Word that’s spoken.
Next week’s Finding Truth in The Story will be on Tom Thumb. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
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